tinfoil man
© pxfuel.com
Having claimed to be a crusader against misinformation during the coronavirus pandemic, Facebook has only just removed the ability for advertisers to target users "interested in pseudoscience," journalists have discovered.

The social media behemoth finally removed the "pseudoscience" category from its advertising platform on Wednesday, several days after investigators at The Markup first confronted it. They questioned the inconsistency between Facebook declaring war on misinformation and offering advertisers the ability to target 78 million people apparently interested in it.

This gulf between Facebook's stated mission and its actual business model was especially glaring in light of a recent post by CEO Mark Zuckerberg boasting of how his platform had slapped warnings on upwards of 40 million Covid-19-related posts, deterring some 95 percent of would-be viewers from clicking through to the original content.

"Through this crisis, one of my top priorities is making sure that you see accurate and authoritative information across all of our apps," Zuckerberg wrote in the post. Oops?

It's not clear what Facebook categorizes as "pseudoscience," or what a user had to do to end up with that particular scarlet letter of gullibility on their advertising profile.

An ad for a radiation-blocking knit beanie, which one might consider the 21st-century stylish equivalent of the conspiracy-pejorative "tinfoil hat," was shown to the Markup journalist based on his (Facebook-determined) interest in "pseudoscience." But when the outlet contacted the advertiser, it insisted they hadn't selected the category.

If true, that would imply Facebook actually made the connection between the product and the audience independently, rendering them even more complicit in spreading the same misinformation they claim to be fighting.

Facebook has wandered in over its head with targeted advertising in the past. Last year, the platform was discovered to be offering advertisers the ability to target users interested in Josef Goebbels, Josef Mengele, and other Nazis and Nazi-adjacent entities - even after a previous scandal had elicited Facebook's reassurance that humans signed off on all ad-targeting categories.

The platform had removed 5,000 categories the previous year after ProPublica found phrases like "Jew hater" and "Hitler did nothing wrong" among the many innocuous hobbies and celebrity interests.

At the same time Facebook was allowing advertisers to hunt for misinformation-susceptible types, Zuckerberg was bragging about removing anti-lockdown protests from the platform, sliming those trying to organize demonstrations to reopen their states or countries as purveyors of "harmful misinformation."

The platform has also adopted a new policy of confronting users who share articles it deems to be misinformation with an information box on their News Feed, encouraging them to visit the website of the World Health Organization.

The wrongthink-shaming move came on the heels of an attack by online activist group Avaaz, which called Facebook an "epicenter of coronavirus misinformation," claiming over 100 "fake news" items about coronavirus had been shared over 1.7 million times.